Smokers could soon be hard pressed to find a place to smoke in Foster City as the council went forward with strengthening its proposed new smoking ordinance at a meeting Monday night.
The council instructed staff to update its draft to ban smoking in rental apartment buildings, on any city-owned property and increase the fines for disobeying the rule. The council will also consider expanding the buffer zone from any entryway into a public building and prohibiting smoking in commercial parking lots.
The city has been discussing updating its 17-year-old ordinance for months and the council Monday was scheduled to vote on a version it outlined to staff in February. However, the council decided to revert two of its previous suggestions and now wants to ban smoking in any multi-unit rental apartment but allow smoking on residential sidewalks.
Councilman Steve Okamoto worked for the American Cancer Society and said he’s glad the city is finally moving forward with further protecting the public from secondhand smoke.
“I think it comes from [Foster City’s] motto; live, play and work in Foster City. And secondhand smoke will be a detriment to that,” Okamoto said. “I’m very pleased that we’ve gone this far and I hope that in the future, we’ll take the next step and make Foster City a smoke-free city.”
With new direction, the proposed ordinance must return to council for another reading and a vote. But the city is on its way to becoming one of the more stringent in San Mateo County, with smokers only able to light up in their cars, on a residential sidewalk or inside personally owned condos, apartments or homes.
Mayor Charles Bronitsky said secondhand smoke is a proven hazard and wants the ordinance strengthened but voted against the one proposed Monday because he was concerned about the council overstepping its bounds.
“It was a majority of the council that decided the health risks of secondhand smoke overrode the concerns of regulating whether people can smoke in their homes or not, and decided protecting people from secondhand smoke was important,” Bronitsky said. “My concern is that government invasion into the home; about taking away either rights or privileges from people who have them … when government doesn’t need to intervene it shouldn’t. That was really my primary objective.”
Tenants have the power to band together and leverage the landlord to create a nonsmoking building, Bronitsky said.
Councilmen Gary Pollard and Art Kiesel also had reservations about regulating what people do in their homes but felt it appropriate to ban smoking in shared rental residences. Kiesel said it was testimony from doctors in attendance Monday night who talked about how smoke can bleed through the walls and floors. Kiesel also said many who are in affordable housing units may not have the option to move and need protection.
Councilman Herb Perez said if it were up to him, the entire city would be smoke free. However, Perez said the city should remain sensitive to Waterfront Pizza, a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah lounge, which has been in the city for 40 years. The current law allows for restaurants to provide up to 50 percent of outdoor seating areas designated as smoking. Although the proposed ordinance would allow Waterfront to still host the cultural practice of smoking hookah, new businesses would not be grandfathered in, Perez said.
“While I don’t like the act and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of public health, we did allow them to build their business and everything that goes with it, so it’s incumbent for us to honor that,” Perez said. “It’s a fixed location and you have a choice to go or not to go. So it’s much different for me than someone that’s walking around with a lit cigarette.”
Although the city agrees on including a clear ban against smoking of any kind on public property such as parks, regulating private parking lots may be up for question.
Pollard said much of the council wants to extend the current 20-foot-buffer zone around entrances, but it will be up to city staff to return with a clear and practical policy.
“All of those (boundaries) have to be thought about as to where’s the imaginary line? … Staff is trying to wrestle with how do we find something that would make it easier to enforce.”
In its new ordinance, council has moved to increase the penalties for smoking in a prohibited area from $100 to $250 for the first offense, from $200 to $500 for the second offense and from $500 to $1,000 for the third offense and thereafter, Perez said.
It could take some time for staff to return with another draft of the proposed ordinance and, although Perez said he wanted to see something go into effect immediately, Okamoto said the current date that’s discussed is at the start of next year.
“I don’t think we can make this ordinance effective immediately. We have to give businesses and apartment owners time to educate their tenants and prepare proper signage,” Okamoto said. “So I have no problem with a January 2015 effective date.”
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